I am absolutely thrilled to be a guest on Nancy’s blog today and would like to thank her for her kind invitation. I always enjoy Nancy’s writing and it’s such a pleasure to have met her ‘in the flesh’ too!
Searching For Captain Wentworth: A Tale of Love Lost in Time
Persuasion is the inspiration for my new book, Searching For Captain Wentworth. My heroine Sophie finds herself travelling back to Jane Austen’s 1800s to live the life of her ancestor, Sophia Elliot. Life isn’t all excitement, however, and she quickly learns that her new family are not quite what she thought they’d be. In complete contrast to the beloved father she’s left behind in contemporary London, her Bath counterpart in 1802 is proving to be a bit of a nightmare. And her sister Emma certainly doesn’t seem to be the sibling she’s always longed for. The friendship Sophie develops with her neighbours in the past with the Austen family makes up for the increasing tensions with the Elliots but there are some situations in which she finds herself feeling at a loss for words!
In this extract from Searching For Captain Wentworth, Sophie is attending a ball at the assembly rooms when a particular person gives rise to her ‘father’s’ curiosity.
I almost didn’t see him at first. Charles came dawdling along at the back stopping to talk to his friends, to listen attentively, or laugh out loud at a shared joke. I imagined they must be other sailors from the way he greeted them. Dressed for the evening I couldn’t help staring as he nonchalantly strolled across the room. Every detail of his appearance sharpened into focus. Dark curls fell on the high collar of his black coat, cut to display a flash of white silk waistcoat with buttons faced in pearl, that led the eye to the swell of satin where his breeches began. Defining his muscular legs, they finished at the knee where silk stockings delineated the curve of shapely calves leading down to a pair of gleaming dancing shoes. He looked beautiful if I can use that word to describe a man, and I knew I was not the only woman in the room who glanced his way or sat up in their chair. I wasn’t standing near the fire, but I felt the rush of heat on my cheeks as I stared. Something about the cut of his dark coat emphasized his broad shoulders, and the crisp cotton kerchief at his neck exaggerated his tanned features making him stand out from the crowd. His air of self-assurance might have come across as arrogance in anyone else, but to me, he simply looked perfect lighting up the room with a personality so magnetic, he seemed to draw everyone around him. The family took up station by the fireplace opposite. Jane glanced across with a smile, and I saw her point me out to her brother. Our eyes met across a sea of people and Charles smiled broadly. I cannot say what made my heart flutter at that moment, but I felt he’d curled a finger round my heart. I couldn’t sustain his gaze and looked away.
‘Who is that fellow over there with the Astons?’ said Mr Elliot, making me feel instantly cross that he couldn’t even remember his neighbours’ name.
‘I’m sure I have no idea,’ said Mrs Randall, looking at me as if she were sure I could supply the answer. ‘He is a very fine looking gentleman. Perhaps he is a relation of the Austen family; a noble peer, I daresay, by his attitude and deportment.’
I spoke out. ‘He is the Miss Austens’ brother, Mr Charles Austen, lately returned from his duties at sea as a lieutenant on the frigate Endymion.’
‘Oh, a sailor,’ uttered Mr Elliot, turning back with utter disdain. ‘Well, I suppose a clergyman’s son has to make his way in the world as any other. But he should be careful about giving himself such airs or he will be sorry when he is found out to be a nobody; a person of obscure birth. I might have guessed he was no gentleman for his face is the colour of my mahogany secretaire.’
‘The Navy has done so much for us that I am convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England,’ I said, but even as I uttered the words I felt sure I was repeating something I’d heard spoken before. They came out so naturally that I couldn’t stop them.
‘I suppose the profession has its uses but I have my own objections to the Navy’s place in society. Men who would never have been raised to honours in the past are now moving in the same circles as their betters, though I can assure you not one would find a friend in me. Besides, I could never be seen consorting with such weather-beaten creatures. A sailor is old before his time; a man’s youth is cut off in its prime. They are exposed to every sort of foul weather and as a consequence are as wrinkled as a walnut and not fit to be seen.’
I was just thinking that this speech had more than a familiar ring to it when I chanced to see that its effects on two people standing less than two feet away had been both painful and mortifying. Unknown to me Jane and Charles had walked over from their place on the other side of the room. They’d obviously heard every word judging from their expressions, though they both assumed smiles as soon as they saw that I, too, was quite horrified by the conversation that had just taken place.
Mr Elliot did not acknowledge them for the second time and I saw Emma turn, linking her arm in his to lead him away. Mrs Randall smiled at my friends, but followed the other two, so I was left alone to think how I could possibly apologize for their abominably rude behaviour. I didn’t know what to say or how to start. I couldn’t bring my eyes to look at Charles even though I knew he was looking at me intently and was very thankful that Jane was the first to speak.
‘Well, is there anyone here worthy of our notice, do you think?’ Her face was alive with humour, her words peppered with irony.
‘Only the first-rates, eh, Miss Elliot?’ Charles declared with a smirk and a wink.
I knew they were teasing, but I couldn’t decide if their comments were in reaction to my family’s rudeness, or an allusion to their pompous and snobbish behaviour, and I didn’t know how to reply.
Such an awkward situation! But, I enjoyed writing the scenes where Sophie’s snobbish ancestors show their true colours. I love the idea of going back in time to see and meet your ancestors but what if they turned out to be an awful family?
I know some of my ancestors were Jewellers and Engineers. Have you ever traced your family tree? And if you could, would you go back in time to meet your family?
Jane Odiwe is a lifelong Jane Austen enthusiast. She is the author of the newly published Searching For Captain Wentworth, Mr Darcy’s Secret, Lydia Bennet’s Story, Willoughby’s Return and Effusions of Fancy. Born in Sutton Coldfield, England, she holds an arts degree and spent many years teaching History and Art in Birmingham and London. Jane is lucky enough to live with her very own Captain Wentworth, their children and two cats, dividing her time between North London and Fairyland, Bath.